t of four North American wars
waged from 1689 to 1763 between the British and the French, with their respective
Native American and colonial allies, for domination in the New World. Britain’s
eventual victory stripped France of its North American empire, thus concluding the
series of conflicts (King George’s War; King William’s War; Queen Anne’s War),
which were known collectively as the French and Indian War. Although the war
began in America, it expanded (1756-1763) into Europe as the Seven Years’ War,
and into Asia as the Third Carnatic War. In winning the war, however, the British
government had virtually doubled its national debt and acquired more territory than
it could control. Attempts by British politicians to reform the administration of the
empire and to raise revenue by taxing the colonies soon antagonized the colonists
and eventually precipitated the American Revolution.
The French and Indian War, of which England was victorious, allowed the
British to become the prominent power in the North American continent, which
contributed to the restlessness of the colonials. The peace settlement at Paris in
1763 expelled all French power from the North American continent. This allowed
Great Britain to emerge as the predominant authority in North America. The war
determined that English rather than French ideas and institutions would also
dominate North America. To quell any more post-war uprisings by the Indians,
Parliament administered its Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited colonial
settlement beyond the Appalachian mountains. The Americans were upset that they
were not allowed to advance westward and revolted accordingly by organizing a fleet
of roughly 1,000 wagons to migrate on trails to the west.
The restlessness and
impatience of the eager colonials represented their strong desire to take over the
entire continent. This early and mild example of rebelliousness characterizes a
strong ambitious people ready to free themselves from the chains of the crown.
The Stamp Act, a taxation system adopted by Parliament in 1765 in order to
financially tap the colonies for aid in war debt (140 million, accumulated by the
Seven Years War) united the colonies against the crown in a major step towards
revolution. The Stamp Act required that all legal documents, licenses, commercial
contracts, deeds, mortgages, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards carry a tax
stamp issued and sold by the British government. Passed without debate, it aroused
widespread opposition among the colonists, who argued that because they were not
represented in Parliament, they could not legally be taxed without their consent.
Additionally, according to Benjamin Franklin in his testimony against the Stamp Act
before the House of Commons in London, “there is not gold and silver enough in the
colonies to pay the stamp duty for one year.
” To the colonists, the Stamp Act
violated the right of English subjects not to be taxed without representation; it
undermined the independence of their colonial assemblies; and it appeared to be one
step in a plot to deprive them of their liberty. The unity of the American colonists in
their opposition to the Stamp Act contributed substantially to the rise of American
nationalist sentiment, and the conflict between the colonists and the British
government over the Stamp Act should be considered one of the fundamental
immediate causes of the American Revolution.
The Townshend Acts of 1767 indirectly led to a series of events preceding
American revolutionary activity. The Townshend Acts, named after the British
chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend, were measures passed by the
British Parliament politically and financially affecting the American colonies. The
first measure called for the suspension of the New York Assembly, thus penalizing it
for not complying with the Quartering Act, enacted two years earlier, requiring the
colonies to provide adequate quartering of British troops in the New World. The
second measure, called the Revenue Act, imposed customs duties on colonial
imports of glass, red and white lead, paints, paper, and tea.
The Townshend Acts
were tremendously unpopular with the colonials. The colonials conjured up non-
importation agreements against the Townshend Acts and smuggled tea at
inexpensive prices. These rebellious reactions increased particularly in
Massachusetts. In response this active criticism of the measures, the British crown
dissolved the Massachusetts legislature in 1768. Subsequently, the Boston Massacre
occurred in March 1770, when British troops fired upon American demonstrators.
The Townshend Acts faltered in revenue production, though it did almost cause a
severe colonial uprising.
These events brought the colonies closer to revolution.
England’s debt from the Seven Years War induced Parliament to suffocate the
ambitious colonists with a myriad of .